One of the most common questions I get from new Tesla owners is if they should get paint protection film (PPF), ceramic coating, or a color change wrap (also called color change vinyl). If you browse through the thousands of forums, you’ll find many about these three types of products. But what exactly are these products and is it worth the trouble?

Paint Anatomy

Before we even talk about the products, it’s important to understand the paint anatomy since PPF, ceramic coating, and color change wraps are all applied or laid on top of the paint. The paint consists of several layers as shown below.

Metal/body panel: For Tesla vehicles, depending on the model, the body panel may be steel or aluminum. (If a scratch reaches all the way to the metal, that cannot be paint corrected.)

Primer: The primer is a bonding agent for the body panel and the paint.

Base Coat: The base coat is the paint that goes on top of the primer that gives the car its color.

Clear coat: This finish is sprayed on top of the base coat to provide protection. It also gives the base coat a glossier and more finished look. This is the layer that we often talk about when referring to paint correction.

Not including the metal/body panel, the other three layers that make up the paint (primer, base, and clear coat) are roughly 100-200 microns. As a comparison, a piece of paper’s thickness is about 100 microns, color change wraps are roughly 100 microns, paint protection film is about 200 microns, and ceramic coating is roughly 2 microns.

For ceramic coating and paint protection film, it’s essential to do a paint correction prior to installation. If you look at your car outside (especially for black vehicles) you may notice micro-scratches or swirls (also called spider webs) in your car. The paint also may be hazy or have a flat look.

Paint correction is the process of removing all these minor imperfections using a high-speed random orbital polisher as shown in the video above to repetitively “cut” the clear coat and to even it out. **Keep in mind that if it’s a deep scratch that goes past the clear coat, it can’t be corrected. Paint correction is done at the clear coat level. While minor scratches can be touched up, a gash or a deep scratch may have to be repainted.

Some shops may forego this method partly because this process can be time-consuming. If you’re looking to get any ceramic coating or PPF applied to your vehicle, make sure to ask the shop if they paint correct prior to installation.

Paint Protection Film

History

PPF was first invented by 3M to protect and extend the life of helicopter rotor blades. It protected the blades from debris during landing and take-off. In the 1980s, it became common for NASCAR racing teams to apply PPF to protect the car from debris, track rubber, and close contact. Most importantly, it also protected the sponsor graphics ;). Today, it’s very common for high-end vehicles to have PPF installed. Because Tesla is known for its thin paint, it’s also become more popular to install PPF on Teslas.

Purpose

The differentiating purpose between PPF and the other products mentioned is that it is designed to protect the paint from rocks, salt, and other elements that cause scratches and nicks. The film itself is typically 8 mils thick (200 microns) so it’s able to take the damage from rocks, door dings, and other possible damages.

Features

Protection from hard objects

Due to the thickness of the material, it’s the perfect product if you need protection against small rocks, gravel, tree branches, and other hard objects that may often hit the paint surface.

Self healing

When heat is applied to minor scratches on the surface of the film (by using a heat gun or hair dryer), the material will “heal itself”, meaning the scratches will disappear.

Non-Yellowing

Unlike films in the earlier days that would yellow due to UV exposure, modern PPFs typically do not yellow anymore. You often can’t even tell it’s there.

Scratch & Stain Resistant

The film is resistant to corrosion and acidic contaminants which creates a defense against chemical stains caused by bird droppings, bug splatters, mineral deposits and acid rain.

Lasts up to 10 Years

The film is tough! It can last up to 10+ years and many shops like us provide warranty for installs.

Installation Process

Prepping the vehicle

  • Remove all emblems if required
  • Pressure wash the vehicle to loosen all the dirt
  • Foam cannon the vehicle and wash with a mitt gently
  • Once rinsed, clay bar the vehicle
  • Rinse off and dry the vehicle with a blower

Paint Correction

  • Inspect the paint in proper lighting to figure out the level of paint correction
  • Cut and buff with a heavy pad and compound
  • Polish with a polisher compound

Laying the Film

  • Prior to laying down the film, make sure to decontaminate all of the edges of the panel using isopropyl alcohol. For some panels, you need to tuck in the edges so this step is very important to ensure the film sticks properly.
  • Measure and cut all of the pieces of film and label each of them.
  • Spray the pane that you’ll be wrapping and squeegee it one last time to ensure all debris are off the paint.
  • Spray the panel with slip solution, which is made with baby shampoo and distilled water.
  • Peel the back layer off of the PPF and spray slip solution on the adhesive side of the film.
  • Carefully lay down film with minimal movement to ensure no debris gets under the film.
  • Once laid down, spray slip solution on top of the film so that the squeegee can glide across the film.
  • Use tack solution in areas that need to be tacked and anchored. Tack solution is made of distilled water and isopropyl alcohol. You can also simply use distilled water and it works just as well.
  • Squeegee the remaining parts of the film getting all the soap out.
  • Trim and cut all edges. Let it dry and tuck in the edges.

Removal

The adhesive on PPF is very aggressive so removing the film can be difficult. It is recommended for professionals to remove the film especially if it’s been on the vehicle for a number of years. Improperly or hastily removing PPF could cause your clear coat to come off with it or even worse, the paint could come off.

Ceramic Coating

History

The first wax ever developed was in the 1800s made of animal fats to protect horse carriages. In the 1900s, carnauba wax was introduced that gave the car a glossy and smooth paint finish. The issue was that it had to be applied every few weeks. Fast forward to now, the ceramic coating was born which was a much more permanent solution that kept the car shiny and made it easy to keep you car clean.

Purpose

Ceramic coating keeps the car shiny and show-room ready all the time. It protects a car’s paint from imperfections while keeping it cleaner for longer. It is known for its hydrophobic properties which allows water and dirt to run off with ease.

Features

Protection from UV Rays

UV rays can do some damage to your car’s paint. Ceramic coating will protect your car’s paint from oxidization and fading. This is helpful if you park your car outdoors often.

Stain Resistant

The coating protects against acidic contaminants such as acid rain or air pollution. The barrier also protects your paint from bird droppings and bug splatters.

Crazy Gloss

The coating gives a shine like no other. It’ll make your car look show-room ready!

Hydrophobic Properties

This is probably the coolest thing about the coating. When washing your car, the surface repels water so it makes cleaning the surface much easier.

Process

Prepping the vehicle 

  • Remove all emblems if required
  • Pressure wash the vehicle to loosen all the dirt
  • Foam cannon the vehicle and wash with a mitt gently
  • Once rinsed, clay bar the vehicle
  • Rinse off and dry the vehicle with a blower

Paint Correction

  • Inspect the paint in proper lighting to figure out the level of paint correction
  • Cut and buff with a heavy pad and compound
  • Polish with a polisher compound

Coating

  • Use a panel wipe prior to applying the coating
  • Drop a couple passes on the applicator
  • Apply the coating
  • Wipe down the coating with a clean microfiber cloth

Removal

Removing ceramic coating can be labor-intensive. The standard way of removing ceramic coating is to polish the vehicle with an orbital. This is highly technical so it’s recommended for professionals to remove the ceramic coating.

**One thing to keep in mind is that PPF and color change wraps do NOT stick well to a ceramic-coated car. So before you coat your car, make sure you decide if you’re going to want PPF or a wrap on the car first. If you already have it coated, shops will simply charge an extra fee to remove the coating before laying any type of film.

Color Change Wraps

History

In the 1990s, German taxis were required by law to be the color beige. The issue was that drivers would have an issue selling the vehicle if they chose to leave the taxi industry. So KPMF came up with a film that could turn any car into the taxi color and then remove the film years later in order to sell the vehicle. Since then, colored wraps have come a long way. From air release technology to thousands of available colors, it’s grown in popularity in the consumer market – especially in the Tesla community.

Purpose

The main purpose is to give your vehicle a unique look. Unfortunately for Tesla owners, the color choices are slim. With thousands of wrap colors to choose from, you can truly stand out from the crowd.

Features

Protective Layer

Although it’s half the thickness of PPF, it is still a film barrier that protects the paint from minor surface scratches and can be removed cleanly. You’ll keep your resale value high by preserving the OEM paint.

Array of Colors

From brands like 3M, Avery, Izonetek, and Oracal, there are thousands of color options to choose from.

Long lasting

Color change wraps can last 5+ years if taken care of. In our experience, 3 years is about the average lifetime.

Maintenance

Color change wraps make it easier to maintain your car. And if you want to make it even easier, there are ceramic coating companies that make coatings specifically for color change wraps.

Process

Prepping the vehicle

  • Remove all emblems if required
  • Pressure wash the vehicle to loosen all the dirt
  • Foam cannon the vehicle and wash with a mitt gently
  • Once rinsed, clay bar the vehicle
  • Rinse off and dry the vehicle with a blower

Wrapping the vehicle

  • Measure twice and cut all the pieces needed for the install.
  • Stretch across the body panel to get the vinyl “glassy.”
  • Squeegee and glide across the vinyl to anchor it. Sometimes gliding solutions help to prevent scratching on vinyl, but be sure to not get any liquid under the wrap.
  • Trim and cut the excess vinyl.
  • Tuck and wrap around the edges.
  • Post heat to make sure no bubbles come up.

Removal

Removing a color change wrap is similar to removing PPF. However, PPF has a much more aggressive adhesive. Oftentimes, we add steam and try to remove the vinyl slowly and in one piece. If you aren’t comfortable removing the vinyl yourself, it’s highly recommended asking a professional to do it to make sure to preserve the paint underneath.